Devious Maids and Modern Fertility

 

The "devious maids" (imdb.com).

The “devious maids” (imdb.com).

Devious Maids is primarily a fluffy show, but it has prompted viewers to consider some serious social and bioethical issues, including surrogacy and egg donation. And the characters who reminded us to check our moral compasses were none other than the show’s admirable maids.

The one-percenters who own the homes cleaned by the show’s maids – perhaps predictably – don’t live conventionally. Serial wife Genevieve Delatour is warm and flighty, living comfortably on her various ex-husbands’ alimony. But when she loses her fortune, Genevieve sets her sights on Alfred, a wealthy and blind 76- year old, who remains determined to become a father.

When the truth about Genevieve’s (older) age comes out, Alfred nearly leaves. Genevieve’s maid, spunky 19-year old Valentina, persuades him to stay. Alfred is so impressed, he tells Genevieve that he’ll still marry her if she’ll agree to a surrogate pregnancy, using Valentina as their egg donor. Valentina visualizes affording design school and quickly agrees. Her mother, however, is firmly opposed.

This whole scenario needs unpacking. First, Alfred seems unaware how unusual his idee fixe is. By age 76, men are typically grandfathers. Raising children is physically exhausting. It’s also a years-long commitment. Alfred doesn’t seem troubled that he might know his offspring for only a few years before his health fails, which makes his interest in parenthood seem more like a science experiment than a meaningful human connection, more selfish than paternal.

Next, this is the first time I’ve ever seen egg donation as a major storyline on TV. As a mother, I wondered how someone could donate an egg and not feel attached to the child it becomes? Perhaps it’s easier to maintain psychic distance if that child grows up elsewhere, but Genevieve and Alfred would be raising Baby in the same house where Valentina might still work. As Baby grew, would Genevieve or Valentina be considered Mommy, especially if Valentina were the one with the energy to care for the child? And would this incredibly wealthy child feel uneasy after learning his or her biological mother’s identity?

Valentina’s mother eventually resolves the dilemma by selling jewelry to finance Valentina’s education, but the episode raised timely questions. Washington, D.C. has been considering legalizing commercial surrogacy with the Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act of 2013. Unfortunately, according to the bill’s opponents, the public debate has been lopsided.

The commercialization of women’s eggs and wombs merits a vigorous public debate. According to Kathleen Sloan, former program director of the Council for Responsible Genetics and member of the National Organization for Women’s national board, “In the vast majority of instances, women’s eggs are sold, not donated. . . . they are trafficked on a daily basis.”

Sloan says state laws on surrogacy vary widely. In California, Devious Maidshome state, laws are lax, which Sloan argues harms surrogates: “Surrogacy reduces a pregnancy to a service for sale and a baby to a product — an ‘entitlement’ for those with the financial means to buy one.” That financial imbalance undoubtedly rings true for Genevieve and Valentina.

There is also the risk of overlooking the children created by such arrangements. What happens to those babies who bond with surrogates in utero, as nature intended? “Mothers are biologically, hormonally and emotionally programmed to bond with their babies at birth and in utero.” Surrogacy is problematic, according to Center of Bioethics and Culture president Jennifer Lahl, because it “takes something as natural as a pregnant woman nurturing her unborn child and turns it into an unnatural contractual, commercialized endeavor.”

As adults, how do these surrogate-carried individuals feel about their unorthodox origins? In the words of the Son of a Surrogate blogger:

It looks to me like I was bought and sold. . . . You can pretend these are not your children. . . . But the fact is that someone has contracted you to make a child, give up your parental rights and hand over your flesh and blood child. I don’t care if you think I am not your child, what about what I think! Maybe I know I am your child. When you exchange something for money it is called a commodity.

Does it make sense for would-be parents to pay others for genetic material and womb space? “Most countries, including all those in Europe, ban surrogacy as an illegal medical procedure. Some countries, such as Australia and Japan, not only make commercial surrogacy illegal, but criminally prosecute it. At the national level in the United States, there are no laws on surrogacy.” The American status quo works well for wealthy would-be parents. It’s just not clear that it’s working so well for surrogates and the children they bear.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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